Italian Template Recipe: Meat, Greens, and Cheese with Pasta

We've been talking about cooking without recipes a lot lately. We're exploring flavors from world cuisines and ingredients that play well together.

Another way to approach cooking instinctively is the idea of template recipes. These are recipes that can be easily deconstructed into just a few basic elements to be mixed and matched at will, like the Asian summer rolls that we showed you yesterday.

One of our very favorite template "recipes" is the Italian standby of pasta, meat, and greens.

This is one of the easiest one-dish suppers we know, and it's a great way to mash most of the essential food groups together in one big pot. It's also easily updated for the vegetarians; leave out the meat and substitute beans, if you're so inclined, or extra vegetables.

Cooking pasta along with all the mix-ins and meat is a new thing for us; we are big fans of basic marinara sauce ladled over fresh, unadulterated pasta. But mixing everything together in one big pot is also delicious, and it helps coat every bite of pasta with a mix of rich and well-developed flavor.

Let's take our recent recipe for Anelletti Pasta with Sausage and Greens and break it down into its elements.

First off, choose your pasta, meat, greens and cheese. Take a look at our growing list of Italian ingredients and flavors:

Italian Ingredients and Flavors

Pick out the freshest greens at the market: spinach, arugula, broccoli rabe, kale, turnip greens, watercress.

Choose some meat: Spicy Italian sausage, chorizo, bacon, salt pork, smoked sausage. A little will go a long way, since it flavors the whole dish. Use less than you would if you were eating it alone.

Cheese: Parmesan and pecorino are classic. But try Swiss too, and Gruyere. Delicious with arugula and fresh sausage!

Now, here are the basic steps of this template recipe.

1. Build flavor
Cook garlic and sometimes onions in a little olive oil. This will build flavor and strengthen the dish.

2. Brown the meat
Add some meat. Sausage, bacon, ground beef, shredded chicken. Cook in the oil until well-cooked and browned.

3. Cook and drain the pasta
Meanwhile cook the pasta just until al dente and drain.

4. Combine
Add the pasta in with the meat and toss over medium heat in a big pot.

5. Wilt the greens and melt the cheese
Add a few handfuls of fresh greens and cheese and cook quickly until all is just melted and wilted. Don't cook too long - you don't want to make the pasta chewy or too soft.

This may seem very basic and second nature to many of you, but it may be new to others. What would you cook in this template? What are your favorite pasta-meat-greens-cheese combinations?

More recipes in this templateRicotta Pasta with Fava Beans and BaconPasta With Greens and FetaStrozzapretti with Pecorino, Prosciutto and Something Green

Pasta with Vegetables
Pasta with Pesto
Heat Wave Eating: No-Cook Tomato Sauce
Fettucini with Butternut Squash, Sage & Brown Butter
Ridiculously Quick Pasta al Pomodoro
Lemon Pepper Pasta with Capers

(Images: Faith Hopler)

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Easy, Italian, Main Dish, Pasta

Faith is the executive editor of The Kitchn and the author of three cookbooks. They include Bakeless Sweets (Spring 2013) as well as The Kitchn's first cookbook, which will be published in Fall 2014. She lives in Columbus, Ohio with her husband Mike.

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